Losing a "Friendship" II
Bill Long 6/27/07
Things Fall Apart
As 2007 opened, then, I felt that our relationship was straining mostly because of a disproportion that was entering into it. I was doing "research" for John, and he seemingly still was interested in my life, but I was giving him "professional" help, so to speak, and he was "only" offering me conversation. Occasionally he would pick me up at the airport when I flew in and out of Portland. Because of the press of other things, I let it go and continued to meet with him in Portland every three weeks or a month (making sure to bring my old New Yorker's when I visited).
Then he made a request that I didn't want to honor. He had begun working on another book, and he needed my help. He wanted to know each time that the particular institution he was studying had been sued in Oregon Courts. I told him how he could get that information--by checking the Oregon Judicial Information Netword--a quite cumbersome data base available to the general public that lists every docket entry for every case ever filed in Oregon. He seemingly wanted me, however, to use my access to other data bases to tell him more about the cases.
I balked, because I knew this would take a lot of time, and I felt that it was stretching beyond the scope of friendship. Or, alternatively, I felt that he was now asking me to be his "research assistant." I didn't want to play that role; I had enough things on my plate. But, I didn't tell him "No." He made the request of me in March and again in April. Finally, probably against my better judgment, I said I would do it. I said, however, that since I had a lot of work to do to prepare for my spelling bee and other things in May-June, that I couldn't get to it until "mid-June.
A Rapid Ending
Promptly on June 10 (I think the double-digits indicated to him that it was "mid" month), he wrote me an email asking me to do the search for him. He put in the email a quotation from my April email to him where I said I would do the search. Sort of like using my words against me. By this time, however, I had decided that I wasn't going to go through with it. I was leaving in four days for my Bee (he never expressed any kind of interest or support for my good performance in the Bee), and so I wrote a quick email to him saying that I wouldn't be doing the search for him, and that I would explain things in an email when I returned on June 22. Here is that email:
"I have decided, after some long thought, that I won't be doing any more research for you. In my judgment, it is asking me for too much, and I am chagrined at myself that I haven't said so earlier to you."
He responded almost immediately.
"Bill: I'm sorry you feel put out. I had asked only bc I lacked access, and you have it. I never felt put out by giving you a number of requested rides to and fro the airport: just a little help from a friend. Is there anything else bothering you about our relationship, Bill? Was the silence related to the research request and/or to something else?
I told him that I didn't have time to answer now but I would respond on returning from my WY Bee and vacation--on June 22.
The Email Exchange on June 22-June 26
When I returned, I wrote the following email to him on June 22.
"I wanted to get back to you after my trip to finish the "unfinished" email of about 10 days ago. In the last few months I have felt that my priorities for time and interest have changed a great deal. I don't make it up to Portland much anymore, and when I do, I have focused reasons for going (such as the spelling bee) that bring me up and then take me home.I have decided two things in the past few months with respect to friendships. First, I want to pursue things with people whose interests align more closely with my own--that is, with people who want to discuss some of my essays with me or who are involved in spelling or Biblical study. Second, I think that I am more and more desirous of friendships where people come to me in Salem. I feel I am in a great flow with my writing and research, and I want that to center around where I normally find myself.
So, back to you...but those are some of the ways my thoughts have evolved in the past months."
I intended this June 22 email as a sort of "invitation to conversation," to explore what remained of our friendship and where we might go from here. I also intended it as a sort of "here I stand," email in which I laid out my interests in a relationship. I was tired of going 50 miles to meet with him (and others, for that matter); I was desirous of having some of my questions be the focus of friendship gatherings. I can easily talk intelligently (so I have been told) on a variety of subjects, but I wanted in the future to have some friendships with people whose intellectual interests aligned more closely with mine.
Thus, I was trying to be clear on what my interests were while, at the same time, offering a way we could continue our conversation.
I actually wasn't sure if John would respond. I had thought that he was so interested in only having me be his "research assistant" that my note would put him off. I felt also, however, that if he was a true "friend" (I am not altogther sure of the definition), that he would want to engage in dialogue to get to the bottom of what happened between us. He didn't respond for four days. Then, I got this note from him yesterday (June 26).
"Bill: You have alienated me. Your note before leaving on your trip angered me. I decided at that point that if you were planning not to do that little research after saying you would earlier, it would not be the decision of a friend and that our friendship would be over. What you wrote on return does not change my view or decision. So drop me from your Friends of Bill site. And Iíll find someone else to be my will's executor [Note--he had also asked me to be the administrator of his estate--and I had accepted]...
As to your most recent remarks, please recall that early on I had futilely suggested several times that we get together, including in Salem, for things like dinner, movies, etc. You only wanted to get together when and at times convenient to you: say 90 minutes between x & y in Portland. I fit into your niches, as you still define your friends: talk to someone only about spelling or essays, etc. How narrow can you get? I did email a comment on two on your essays but got no reply I can recall. Maybe you didn't like my general criticism of your blogging compared to you more valuably publishing articles, books.
Anyway, our friendship is over, and our discussion."
What would you have felt if you received such an email from someone with whom you had conversed with a few times a month for the previous several years? I think I need one more essay to say how I reacted to this email--and to give a copy of my response email.